Increasing evidence suggests that physical activity could prevent cancer, but scanty data is available on head and neck cancer (HNC). The aim of our study is to clarify the effect of recreational physical activity (rPA) on HNC. We analyzed data from four case-control studies, including 2,289 HNC cases and 5,580 controls. rPA was classified as: none/low (reference group), moderate and high. We calculated summary Odds Ratios (ORs) by pooling study-specific ORs. Overall, moderate rPA was associated with 22% lower risk of HNC compared to those with none or very low rPA levels [OR = 0.78, 95% Confidence Interval (95% CI): 0.66, 0.91]. Moderate rPA is associated with reduced risk of oral (OR = 0.74, 95% CI: 0.56, 0.97) and pharyngeal cancer (OR = 0.67, 95% CI: 0.53, 0.85), as well as high rPA levels (OR = 0.53, 95% CI: 0.32, 0.88 for oral cavity, OR = 0.58, 95% CI: 0.38, 0.89 for pharynx). High rPA levels, however, is associated with higher risk of laryngeal cancer (OR = 1.73, 95% CI: 1.04, 2.88). Stratified analyses showed that such inverse association between moderate rPA and HNC was more evident among males (OR = 0.75, 95% CI: 0.62, 0.90), subjects ≥45 years (OR = 0.78, 95% CI: 0.66, 0.93), and ever smokers and ever drinkers (OR = 0.72, 95% CI: 0.59, 0.88). High rPA significantly reduces HNC risk among subject ≥45 years (OR = 0.66, 95% CI: 0.48, 0.91). Promoting rPA might be inversely associated with HNC.
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